“A monk-to-be,” Davis says at the exact moment I say, “A future monk.”
“Exactly,” he adds to me with this cute tilt of his head. I’ve never seen him do that before. Or maybe I’ve never noticed? It’s probably the latter—I’m not supposed to be noticing cute head tilts or anything else cute about Davis. He’s the guy who tells me if I have lettuce in my teeth after lunch or warns me when our assistant is sobbing over a breakup at her desk. I’m the woman who listens to him describe a bad date or his niece’s trip to the ER over jasmine tea in the lounge.
“What does scourge mean?” Linus asks.
I want to tell him it means someone who causes pain and suffering, like a meddling neighbor who steals your body. But Celeste says, “Let’s make a note and look it up later. That way you can do your best to try to figure it out in the context and then compare your guess to reality when we get home.”
“Look it up how?” asks Linus. “Are you saying you don’t know?”
Celeste just smiles. “We can use the dictionary together. You know, the big book with all the words?”
I am 99 percent sure I don’t own a dictionary. Linus looks at Celeste like she’s gone mad, but then he looks at the e-book and says, “I think it means someone who is bad or, like, causing trouble. Making things hard on people.”
Davis gives him a pat on the back. “Nailed it, kiddo.”
I look away, sheepish. Why don’t I ever handle his questions that way instead of blurting out the answers and getting on with things?
I am further chastened a few minutes later when Linus tells Celeste he’s thirsty, and instead of buying him a Costco juice box from the team cooler for fifty cents like I would do, she says, “I believe you took a water bottle with you to school this morning. You’re welcome to refill it at the fountain.”
Linus pales. “I left it at school. I think.”
And Celeste just smiles at him and says, “That’s ok. The water fountain isn’t that far away,” and resumes talking to Davis.
I am speechless when Linus just gets himself up without a word of complaint and gets a slurp of free water. Or I would be speechless if anyone were talking to me. And I realize, aside from a few words to strangers in the stores and Celeste just now, I haven’t spoken to an adult today or typed a sentence or read a paragraph. I turn to the other side of my blanket, where Davi’s mom sits, scrolling on her phone. “Hi, Sumeta!” I say. I’m not exactly sure what to say next.
She looks at me and gives me a weak smile. “Hello, Celeste. How are you?”
“Great. Had such a relaxing day.”
“That’s nice,” she says coldly. Then her phone buzzes five times in a row. “Sorry. It’s work. I tried to take a half day to see the first practice, but my team comes to me for every little thing anyway—what’s the point?”
“Oh yeah, I so know,” I say. “And you think, Why can’t they make these decisions for themselves? Did I train them to become this dependent? But I think maybe this latest generation of grads is actually just striving to be communicative. I truly believe the overreporting behavior that is a trademark of younger staff is fixable with patience.”
Sumeta looks at me with increased interest. “I didn’t know you worked, Celeste. I thought you were just at home during the day.”
I bite my lip, exposed. “I mean . . . that’s what Hugh tells me, my husband. He has a lot of . . . summer interns.”
She nods. “Oh. Yes, of course, I see. And by the way—I shouldn’t have said ‘just at home.’ I apologize. Staying at home with three kids is probably a ton of work.”
I shrug. “I don’t know about that. The older kids are in school all day, and this one is so easy. Just give her a phone or a tablet, and you’re good. It’s really been a bit boring. No one needed me all day today.”
This time Sumeta’s fake smile doesn’t even reach to the corners of her lips. “Well, in that case, I should get you to come to my house sometime. You won’t be bored; I promise you that.” With that, she turns back to her phone.
I turn back to the field, feeling somehow shamed. I thought Sumeta would be glad to hear the truth. But, of course, now I realize I just sounded smug. She can’t possibly know that my days are usually exactly the same as hers. She doesn’t know that a boring day was a reprieve. All she sees in Celeste is a Pinterest mom with all the time in the world and none of the cares. Someone who makes the rest of us look incompetent, with her perfect sack lunches, perfect birthday parties, perfect educational craft projects and screen time limits and healthy snacks on compostable dining ware. In other words, she sees Celeste exactly as I do: a personal indictment of my best attempts at motherhood.
I turn back to Bridget and Zoey and Davi all playing together, hustling around the field in safe-slide drills. They’re getting filthy and laughing and are liberal with the high fives. In twenty years, will they be sitting here on three separate blankets like their moms, trying just as hard as we are to justify the different choices they’ve made for their families?
I really hope not.
It’s just that I have no idea how to prevent it.
My mom was a very patient woman, but there was one thing she did while we were growing up that made everyone in my family run for cover.
So I notice right away when I get home to Wendy’s house, unload groceries, start laundry, think up dinner, load up the dishwasher, and somehow manage to do it all at a hundred decibels. “How exactly does one loudly fold laundry?” we always teased my mom after the danger had passed. The trick, I now see, is lots of huffing.
I huff as I look at the morning’s cereal bowls near and in the sink. I huff as I take in the kitchen floor, which I mopped yesterday and which now has three gooey spots on it. I huff again as I see that Bridget has taken her softball clothes and thrown them toward but not into the laundry room, then left her gear bag in the middle of the hall and reconnected her butt to the sofa seat she was in all day yesterday.
I huff because Linus left his muddy shoes on when he came inside and is now looking around the kitchen for something to eat even though I am clearly chopping tomatoes for dinner.
I huff because it is almost six, and Wendy’s husband is nowhere to be seen.
I huff because after Davis left for his weekly poker game, Bridget, Linus, and I had to get a ride back to the car with Wendy and my kids. The boot was off when we got there, and I thought maybe I would get away with the whole thing without Wendy ever knowing, but there was a new parking ticket on the car windshield. As though I could have moved the car if I’d wanted to. And the whole affair was me trying to tell Wendy to stop feeding my kids ultraprocessed foods and wrecking their frontal lobes with screens and her replying that only an idiot would park in a loading zone and could I maybe keep her homelife separate from what is obviously, at least to me, an office affair just waiting to happen.
And in the back of my van, the kids all shouting at each other, and Linus and Samuel having a slap fight over the top of Anna Joy’s car seat, and Bridget telling Zoey she needs new, expensive athletic shoes, and Wendy saying absolutely nothing to the kids about any of this.
So yeah, now I know how my mom learned to take her feelings out on kitchen appliances. In fact, I wonder how many times I can slam this microwave door before somebody asks me if everything is ok.
But on slam number four, I start to chill. I’m being ridiculous, and there’s no earthly way two kids under twelve are supposed to pick up on this passive-aggressive tantrum I’m having with myself in here. I’ve got to use my words on these kids and save the grumping for adults. Like Seth, if he ever shows his face. I bend over, hang loose at the waist, and take some deep breaths.
Then, like a ninja, I stealth into the living room and say very quietly, almost in a whisper, “Bridget, I have a proposition.”
You have to be patient when you try to ninja your kids. Nothing happens at first. I’m expecting this, so I just pick up a gossip magazine—why does Wendy’s coffee table look like the waiting area in a cheap nail salon?—and read about what’s happening with the royals.
After a page of Stars Are Just Like Us, Bridget looks up from her phone.
“What?” she says.
I reply in a voice so quiet she can’t possibly hear me.
“Why are you whispering?” she asks.
“Come over here,” I say. “So you can hear me.”
She looks weirded out but comes to sit by me.
“I wonder how you’re enjoying school lunch,” I ask her when she gets closer.
“Ugh, it’s gross; you know that.”
“If you could bring anything to school every day, what would it be?” I ask her.
She doesn’t hesitate a second. “Sushi. California rolls.”
“Hm,” I say, then get up and go looking for Linus.